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My research focuses on the cultural contexts of organizations past and present.  My first book was a study of how conditions at founding influence subsequent organizational trajectories, a question I examined through an archival study of the Paris Opera from its creation under Louis XIV to its restructuring under Napoleon (Backstage at the Revolution: How the Royal Paris Opera Survived the End of the Old Regime, University of Chicago Press, 2008).  Available via Amazon.com or University of Chicago Press.

A second book project also focused on opera.  Disciplinary boundaries have long discouraged exchange and collaboration among the many kinds of scholars who work on opera.  Under the sponsorship of New York University and the Social Science Research Council, I worked with Thomas Ertman (Department of Sociology, NYU) to bring together top opera scholars from the fields of musicology, history, literary studies, sociology, philosophy, and political science.  Our goal was to facilitate the exchange of the specific methods and theoretical frameworks that these scholars had found to be useful in the study of opera.  The concrete result of this conference was an edited volume, Opera and Society in Italy and France from Monteverdi to Bourdieu, published by Cambridge University Press in the Cambridge Studies on Opera series in 2007. Available via Amazon.com or Cambridge University Press.

In my current research, I draw on the same sociological questions concerning the impact of cultural contexts on organizational forms and trajectories that informed my work on the Paris Opera to investigate how the movement for environmental sustainability is transforming the organizational field of U.S. botanical gardens.  Most gardens have had as their chief organizational goals (1) the support of scientific research on plant biology; (2) the education of the public about the world’s plant life; and (3) the preservation of plant diversity.  Given these goals, botanical gardens appear to have been aligned with the key concerns of the environmental movement of the twentieth century.  In recent decades, however, concerns about widespread environmental destruction and over-consumption of the world’s natural resources have given rise to calls for “environmental sustainability” in all domains of human activity.  While one might reasonably expect commercial enterprises such as auto manufacturers or coal mining companies to suffer from inertia in the face of pressures for sustainability, even the “greenest” of all formal organizations — botanical gardens — are now grappling with how to respond in their practices and communications to these new pressures and opportunities.  Drawing on organizational archives and interview research, I document and explain the changes that are taking place in the identity, mission, and operations of U.S. botanical gardens.  In a related project, I am exploring the shifting organizational structures and missions of American botanical gardens from the Colonial era to the present. 

Contact Info 725 Dennison Building
500 Church Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Office phone:
(734) 615-9059

vjohnsn@umich.edu